Defending the Facts on Obama's Faith
Sojomail - February 28, 2008
We either vote for a party that resonates with our beliefs but does not want us, or with a party that wants us but does not resonate with our beliefs.
- Reina Olmeda, a Pentecostal Latina pastor. (Source: The Washington Post )
Defending the Facts on Obama's Faith
So I am going to defend my friend, Barack Obama, from an increasing number of ridiculous and scurrilous attacks on the Internet and in the media. The latest incident occurred when a loud-mouth radio talk show host in Cincinnati let loose with a barrage of disparaging remarks against Senator Obama and kept using his middle name-Barack HUSSEIN Obama-over and over, seemingly to tie into the Internet accusations that Obama is really a Muslim who, as a child, attended a Muslim "madrassa" school in Indonesia that taught Islamic fundamentalism, etc. As a Chicago Tribune blog piece commented, "Anyone who uses Obama's middle name repeatedly, like Cincinnati radio host Bill Cunningham the other day, knows what he or she is doing and what feelings they are trying to evoke. There's simply nothing innocent about it."
The occasion for the shock jock's diatribe was his introduction of Senator John McCain at a rally. To his great credit, McCain denounced the remarks when he heard about them, disassociated himself from this kind of attack, and reaffirmed that his campaign would be conducted on higher ground. Good for you, John McCain. So of course, the local loud-mouth, Bill Cunningham, quickly withdrew his support from McCain and now is denouncing him too; which, of course, was quickly picked up by his mentor, the national radio loud-mouth Rush Limbaugh (whom the local Cunningham seems to desperately "wannabe"). And, of course, Rush is now denouncing both Obama and McCain.
I watched last night as other cable news shows told this story and subtly tried to add more fuel to the fire. Lou Dobbs downplayed the Cincinnati outburst as unimportant and suggested it was no different that telling the world that John McCain's middle name is "Sydney." Sure Lou; and it was interesting that Dobbs followed with more innuendos and rolled eyes over the moment in the Tuesday Democratic debate when Obama was asked about Louis Farrakhan, about suspicions that Barack's home Trinity Church on the south side of Chicago was "black nationalist," and about why Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright, wouldn't come on Lou's show to discuss his alleged sympathies for Farrakhan, etc. It is certainly no mystery why Pastor Wright didn't cancel his retirement celebrations and drop everything to come on Lou's show. Would anyone?
An Associated Press story titled " Obama Fights False Links to Islam" commented on the new flare-up, "For Barack Obama, it is an ember that he has doused time and again, only to see it flicker anew: links to Islam fanned by false rumors, innuendo, and association."
During the Democratic debate, Obama again "denounced and rejected" the ugly anti-Semitic comments that Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan has often made, as he had done many times before. Farrakhan hadn't actually endorsed Obama, but recently said, "This young man is the hope of the entire world that America will change and be made better." Asked on Tuesday night about whether he would accept Farrakhan's support, Obama said: "I live in Chicago. He lives in Chicago. I've been very clear, in terms of me believing that what he has said is reprehensible and inappropriate. And I have consistently distanced myself from him."
So let's set the record straight. I have known Barack Obama for more than 10 years, and we have been talking about his Christian faith for a decade. Like me and many other Christians, he agrees with the need to reach out to Muslims around the world, especially if we are ever to defeat Islamic fundamentalism. But he is not a Muslim, never has been, never attended a Muslim madrassa, and does not attend a black "separatist" church. Rather, he has told me the story of his coming from an agnostic household, becoming a community organizer on Chicago's South Side who worked with the churches, and how he began attending one of them. Trinity Church is one of the most prominent and respected churches in Chicago and the nation, and its pastor, Jeremiah Wright, is one of the leading revival preachers in the black church. Ebony magazine once named him one of America's 15 best Black preachers. The church says it is "unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian," like any good black church would, but is decidedly not "separatist," as its white members and friends would attest.
And one Sunday, as Obama has related to me and written in his book The Audacity of Hope, the young community organizer walked down the aisle and gave his life to Christ in a very personal and very real Christian conversion experience. We have talked about our faith and its relationship to politics many times since. And after Obama gave his speech at a Sojourners/Call to Renewal conference in June 2006, E.J. Dionne said that it may have been "the most important pronouncement by a Democrat on faith and politics since John F. Kennedy's Houston speech in 1960 declaring his independence from the Vatican."
Like his politics or not, support his candidacy or not - but don't disparage Barack Obama's faith, his church, his minister, or his credibility as an eloquent Christian layman who feels a vocation in politics. Those falsehoods are simply vicious lies and should be denounced by people of faith from across the political spectrum.
In what has been described as the largest cross-border attack since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Turkish military is now into its 6th day of a ground offensive inside the Kurdish region in Iraq. Turkey says the attack is limited to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets, but the ramifications go much farther.
When the U.S. took out Saddam, the Iraqi Kurds were ecstatic. In our first weeks here, Kurds initially shared their love for the U.S. But when we engaged people long enough in conversation, they expressed their doubts, especially with regard to U.S. foreign policy. Still, they hoped that the U.S. would support them politically and economically.
I was in Lebanon and Syria in January and saw up close the agony of the war. In Damascus, young Iraqi refugees have created a youth choir at the Good Shepherd Center. After singing for us, many came forward to tell us their stories.
Early reports are that one in six soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and one in three show symptoms. Increasing numbers of military parents are losing custody of their children following deployments as judges rule their home life is unstable. And the number of American military casualties in Iraq will soon reach 4,000. In October of 2007, the average home in Baghdad had electricity only six hours a day. Most people lack clean drinking water, which is electrically pumped to residents. We are unable to count the number of Iraqis who have died because of the war; estimates vary from 81,000 to well over 1 million.
Susan sat on her bed, looking frightened and sad. The 27-year-old had lost the lower half of her left leg when, at 2 a.m. on Dec. 16, Turkish fighter planes dropped four bombs on her home in a village along the northeastern Iraq-Iran border.
I am not concerned with war crimes and atrocities because it is my experience that the war itself is criminal and atrocious. An atmosphere of disregard to both the rule of law and the rule of the Lord pervades our society - corroding our collective consciousness and dislocating our moral center.
Kenya and several other countries have made real progress in fighting AIDS with U.S. support. On his recent trip to Africa, President Bush rightly received recognition for getting the ball rolling on expanding access to AIDS services in our region of the world, especially treatment and care for the sick and orphaned. But, quite frankly, I am alarmed at how far removed from African reality his proposal is for the next five years of the program.
In recent weeks, we've been watching Senator Obama and Senator Clinton try to disagree honestly without being too nasty in the process. This week, we saw Senator McCain come to the defense of Senator Obama when a warm-up speaker stooped to some low political rhetoric. Maybe the stale air of partisanship and "gotcha" politics can be replaced by some clean, fresh cooperative air ... for a while at least?
In the past year, political expediency, xenophobia, and extremism defeated reason, compromise, and reconciliation in the immigration debate. The level of animosity directed towards the immigrant community, particularly the Latino community, stands at an all time high. We cannot stay silent.
A few weeks ago, as I was reading David Kinnaman's book unChristian—a look at the way late teens to 30-year-olds perceive Christianity—I found myself nodding in agreement. Not only did I fully understand this younger generation's negative attitudes, I've also harbored many of those same opinions over the years. ... I am so far outside the book's demographic, and that of a recent Pew Research Center poll on younger evangelicals, that I might be tempted to feel like a loner, an isolated, older evangelical and the bane of every partisan politician—an independent voter. But I know better. I am not isolated. I am not alone. There are plenty of evangelicals in nearly every age group who cannot in good conscience embrace either major party, and for that reason they have become independents. And their numbers are growing.
Wake-Up Calls (by Brian McLaren)
I'm always a bit anxious in new worship environments. As I settle into my plastic chair at New Beginnings Lutheran Church, I realize that now is certainly no different. At least, I think to myself, my cell phone won't go off in worship; it was confiscated by the guard before I went through the metal detector.
What most struck me about the Pew Study was that U.S. citizens are moving to places where faith is "personal." I bumped into one of the authors of the new study, John Green, at the Washington, D.C., CNN studios this afternoon, where we were both doing commentary on the results. And John confirmed the conclusion about the attractiveness of more personal, dynamic, and vibrant faith communities. But, as I said to the CNN correspondent who, of course, asked about the political implications of all this, personal doesn't necessarily mean private, conservative, Republican, Religious Right, abortion, and gay marriage.
We are painfully reminded once again of the cascading violence in the U.S. after the senseless killing of six and wounding of many others at Northern Illinois University. But in my low-income Chicago community, the violence and killing have almost numbed us. I hear gunshots out my window regularly in the summer, and the annual homicide toll from guns in our two-square-mile community is often more than 30. The Children's Defense Fund indicates that almost 3,000 youths die in the U.S. annually from gun violence.
No words can really communicate the essence of what we are doing here. For that, you'd need Smell-O-Vision. In case you didn't know, Smell-O-Vision was a system developed in the 1950s that released odors during the projection of a movie so that the viewer could actually smell what was happening onscreen. Thirty years later, cult filmmaker John Waters tried the same thing with scratch and sniff cards. In both cases, the idea was to take advantage of the scientific fact that smell is easily the strongest and most vivid of our senses when it comes to processing emotional experiences. If you've ever smelled something and had memories you hadn't thought of in years come flooding back, you know what I'm talking about.
Use your "extra" day this Leap Year to call your member of Congress about the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation (HR 2634/S2166).
Since the days of Jubilee 2000, we have seen 23 countries receive nearly 100 percent cancellation of their debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Debt relief has produced results – eliminating fees that had blocked access to primary education and rural health clinics for the poorest, helping millions of children return to school, and providing access to basic medical care.
Yet, despite the remarkable track record of debt cancellation, more than 40 poor countries are still waiting to see their debts canceled. The Jubilee Act (HR 2634 / S 2166) builds on past debt cancellation successes by calling for expanded debt cancellation to all countries that need it to reach the UN Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015.
PLEASE CALL TODAY! You can reach the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.
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All Angels' Church in NYC seeks full-time Director of Community Ministries to oversee the compassionate care, life transformation, and spiritual development of homeless individuals. Send cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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